$2700 eBay Bet Pays off for this 14 GHz Spectrum Analyzer Repair

The eBay addiction starts small. One night you’re buying $3 buck-boost converters and cheap Chinese USB power packs. The next thing you know you’re spending thousands on dead instruments with no documentation. You’ve got the skills though, and if your bet that you can diagnose and repair a 14 GHz real-time spectrum analyzer is right, you’ll be putting a snazzy instrument on the bench for a fraction of the original $50,000 it cost.

Make some popcorn and get cozy before settling in to watch [Shahriar]’s video below, because it clocks in at just over an hour. But it’s pretty entertaining, and just seeing how Tektronix built the RSA 6114A spectrum analyzer is worth the time. Things are different when you’re piping microwave signals around the chassis of a beast such a this, the interior of which is densely packed with pluggable modules. Tek factory service would no doubt perform a simple module swap to get this machine running again, but [Shahriar] wasn’t having any of that on his $2,700 eBay find. After isolating the problem to the local-oscillator generator module, [Shahriar] takes us on a tour of where the signals go and what they do. We won’t reveal the eventual culprit, but suffice it to say that after a little SMD rework, [Shahriar] has a very fancy new instrument for the shop.

If this repair gives you the itch to get working on microwave circuits, maybe it’s time to build that backyard synthetic aperture radar set you’ve always wanted.

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Toshiro Kodera: Electromagnetic Gyrotropes

We’ve learned a lot by watching the talks from the Hackaday Superconferences. Still, it’s a rare occurrence to learn something totally new. Microwave engineer, professor, and mad hacker [Toshiro Kodera] gave a talk on some current research that he’s doing: replacing natural magnetic gyrotropic material with engineered metamaterials in order to make two-way beam steering antennas and more.

If you already fully understood that last sentence, you may not learn as much from [Toshiro]’s talk as we did. If you’re at all interested in strange radio-frequency phenomena, neat material properties, or are just curious, don your physics wizard’s hat and watch his presentation. Just below the video, we’ll attempt to give you the Cliff’s Notes.

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Get On 10 GHz For 3 Euros

A frequent complaint you will hear about amateur radio is that it is a chequebook pursuit. Of course you can work the incredible DX if you spend $20k on a high-end radio, big antenna, and associated components. The reality is though that because it’s such a multi-faceted world there are many ways into it of which the operator with the shiny rig is taking only one.

On the commonly used HF and VHF bands at the lower end of the radio spectrum you will definitely find chequebook amateurs of the type described in the previous paragraph. But as you ascend into the microwave bands there are no shiny new radios on the market, so even the well-heeled licensee must plow their own furrow and build their own station.

You might think that this would remain a chequebook operation of a different type, as exotic microwave devices are not always cheap. But in fact these bands have a long history of extremely inexpensive construction, in which skilled design and construction as well as clever re-use of components from satellite TV systems and Doppler radar modules play a part. And it is a project following this path that is our subject today, for [Peter Knol, PA1SDB] has repurposed a modern Doppler radar module as a transmitter for the 10GHz or 3cm amateur band (Google Translate version of Dutch original). The best bit about [Peter]’s project is the price: these modules can be had for only three Euros.

Years ago a Doppler module would have used a Gunn diode in a waveguide cavity and small horn, usually with an adjacent mixer diode for receiving. Its modern equivalent uses a transistor oscillator on a PCB, with a dielectric resonator and a set of patch antennas. There is also a simple receiver on board, but since [Peter] is using a converted ten-Euro satellite LNB for that task, it is redundant.

He takes us through the process of adjusting the module’s frequency before showing us how to mount it at the prime focus of a parabolic antenna. FM modulation comes via a very old-fashioned transformer in the power feed. He then looks at fitting an SMA connector and using it for more advanced antenna set-ups, before experimenting with the attenuating properties of different substances. All in all this is a fascinating read if you are interested in simple microwave construction.

The result is not the most accomplished 10 GHz station in the world, but it performs adequately for its extremely low price given that he’s logged a 32 km contact with it.

Though we cover our fair share of amateur radio stories here at Hackaday it’s fair to say we haven’t seen many in the microwave bands. If however you think we’ve been remiss in this area, may we point you to our recent coverage of a microwave radio receiver made from diamond?

Via Southgate ARC.

Trio of Magnetrons Power a Microwave Rifle

Can you build a working EM weapon from three microwave ovens? Apparently, yes. Should you do so? Maybe not when the best safety gear you can muster is a metallized Mylar film fetish suit and a Hershey’s Kiss hat.

Proving that language need not be a barrier to perfect understanding of bad ideas, the video below tells you all you need to know, even without subtitles in the non-Russian language of your choice. [KREOSAN]’s build is obnoxiously obvious — three magnetrons mounted on a tin can “resonator” with a foil-covered waveguide at the business end. The magnetrons are tickled by a stun-gun that’s powered by a pack of 18650 batteries. The video shows some “experiments”, like lighting up unpowered CFL bulbs from about 15 meters away and releasing the Blue Smoke from the electrical system of a running motor scooter. Assuming they weren’t added in post, the artifacts in the video belie the gun’s lack of shielding for the operator. We doubt any of the ad hoc safety gear would provide any protection from the resulting microwaves, but we also doubt that it matters much when things have gotten this far.

We’re not too sure about this one — some of the zapping stunts look a little too conveniently explosive. It’s hard to tell the details without a translation, so maybe one of our Russian-speaking readers can pitch in on the comments. Although this isn’t [KRESOAN]’s first microwave rodeo, having melted a few lightbulbs with magnetrons before. Even seeing this we still consider EMP Weapons a figment of Hollywood’s imagination.

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DIY Spot Welder Doesn’t Look Like it Will Immediately Kill You

We love hacks that involve mains voltage, but most of the time, for safety’s sake, we secretly hope for that one macabre commenter that details every imaginable way the questionable design choices will result in death. This spot welder may still be dangerous, but it looks like they took some precautions to make it non-lethal, and that counts for a lot.

After their extremely questionable high speed belt sander, this one is, refreshingly, extremely well done. It starts of as a dead standard microwave spot welder build: take apart microwave, try not to die from large capacitor, remove coil, modify coil, and hook up.

After that, it gets to some nice heavy metal music fabrication. Aside from a slightly shocking number of fresh OSHA reportable hand injuries (wear gloves!) the build goes together well. A lot of planning obviously went into it, from the actively cooled transformer to what appears to be a resettable timer circuit for the weld duration, not to mention the way that it just fit together so well at the end. There were some neat ideas as far as home mechanics go that we’ll be using in some of our projects.

In the end, the proof is in the spot-weld. The timer is set, pedal gets pressed down, and when tested, the sheet metal breaks instead of the weld. Video after the break.

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A Field Guide to the North American Communications Tower

The need for clear and reliable communication has driven technology forward for centuries. The longer communication’s reach, the smaller the world becomes. When it comes to cell phones, seamless network coverage and low power draw are the ideals that continually spawn R&D and the eventual deployment of new equipment.

Almost all of us carry a cell phone these days. It takes a lot of infrastructure to support them, whether or not we use them as phones. The most recognizable part of that infrastructure is the communications tower. But what do you know about them?

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J.C. Bose and the Invention of Radio

The early days of electricity appear to have been a cutthroat time. While academics were busy uncovering the mysteries of electromagnetism, bands of entrepreneurs were waiting to pounce on the pure science and engineer solutions to problems that didn’t even exist yet, but could no doubt turn into profitable ventures. We’ve all heard of the epic battles between Edison and Tesla and Westinghouse, and even with the benefit of more than a century of hindsight it’s hard to tell who did what to whom. But another conflict was brewing at the turn of 19th century, this time between an Indian polymath and an Italian nobleman, and it would determine who got credit for laying the foundations for the key technology of the 20th century – radio.

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